Sunday, May 29, 2005

John F. Kennedy speech about the separation of church and state

In the new issue of Free Inquiry there is a quote from JFK's address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association which I had not heard of before. When I looked the speech up I was impressed and had to wonder, would a candidate brave enough to make such a speech in today's political climate stand a chance of election?

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute - where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote - where no church or school is granted public funds or political preference - and where no man is denied public officer merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is neither officially Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish - where no public official either requests or accepts instruction on policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source - where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials - and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church as treated as an act against all.
And the following words seem particularly relevant to today.

Whatever issue may come before me as President--on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject--I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if the time should ever come--and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible--when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.


John Lombard said...

Of course, Kennedy had to prove he wouldn't be the puppet of the Pope. :-)

Hume's Ghost said...

Right, one of the reasons many Americans supported the seperation of church and state in the early days of the Republic was that they feared Catholic persecution. Having a secular gov't was their defense against this, and so long as this Protestant/Catholic tension existed the seperation of church and state was safe.

But now that Protestants and Catholics have reconciled, to a certain extent, and reframed the issue as being Christian vs. non-Christian the seperation of church and state no longer is as important. They've forgotten that a secular government, that a separation of church and state, protects their right to practice their religion from the encroachment of others.

Granted, I'm speaking in general terms and oversimplifying the issue.